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Moffatts, Ladds & Warners

North Church - Portsmouth NH

This tour is one of the three “must do” tours for Portsmouth. It’s centered around two of the historic house museums – the Moffatt-Ladd House and the Warner House. Sprinkled in are a couple iconic churches, an athenaeum and a couple memorial parks.

Be sure to plan ahead assuming you want to tour inside one or both of the historic houses (I highly encourage it) – hours are seasonal and can vary. I was able to catch a tour of the Moffatt-Ladd House while I was here, but the Warner House was sadly closed.

You may be tempted by some of the eateries and watering holes along the route – feel free to indulge. After visiting the Moffatt-Ladd house, you’ll be passing Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream, serving up homemade goodness since 1982. See if you have the will power to resist (I certainly didn’t – the raspberry chocolate chip was amazing).

As with the other downtown tours, it’s always fun to land back at Market Square or the Bow Street area for some well-deserved fortification at one of the local eateries or watering holes.

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North Church

North Church

One of Market Square’s most iconic landmarks is North Church. With its towering white steeple dating back to 1855, it adds a touch of historical charm to Portsmouth’s cityscape, and is visible from just about everywhere in the city. Talk about a compass.

The original church was built in 1657, replaced fifty years later in 1713 by a meeting house, which was itself in 1854 by the current church. Up through about the mid-1800s, it was usual practice to arrange church seating by social rank, often with pews purchased by those in higher classes.

The North Church was no exception, and those who purchased pews were also required to purchase pews in the upper corner of the balcony for their slaves, if they had any. With the establishment in the 1890s of the black People’s Baptist Church, black parishioners diminished and the hierarchical practice gradually fell away.

Today, the church is an active community and welcomes all through its doors.

Portsmouth Athenaeum

Portsmouth Athenaeum

The Portsmouth Athenaeum, established in 1817, is a membership library and museum, serving as a treasure trove of local history and culture. It houses an extensive collection of books, documents, photographs, and artifacts related to the history and culture of Portsmouth and the surrounding region. It includes rare books, historic manuscripts, maps, and a collection of early newspapers.

One of the Athenaeum’s most notable features is the “Reading Room”, which has remained virtually unchanged since the 19th century. Its elegant interior, complete with antique furnishings and a cozy fireplace, evokes the charm of a bygone era. Perfect for immersing oneself in history.

While the Reading Room and the majority of the collections are only accessible to proprietors (members), the public is welcome in the exhibition area on the first floor during operating hours. The institution also offers public tours on certain days, so it’s worth checking the schedule when planning your visit.

Visiting the Portsmouth Athenaeum provides a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the city’s rich history and vibrant cultural life. It’s a must-see for any history or literature enthusiast.

Moffatt-Ladd House

Moffatt-Ladd House

The Moffatt-Ladd House is an historic Georgian home, built in 1763, and the home of Declaration of Independence signer William Whipple. With beautifully preserved wall murals, a beautifully crafted staircase filling the unusual location to the right front of the house, and restored rooms, this house is fascinating both from an architectural and historical perspective.

The house was built by John Moffatt for his only son, Samuel, and Samuel’s English bride. Samuel was unfortunately a poor business man and eventually forced to flee to a Dutch-held island to avoid debtor’s prison.

Katherine Moffatt, Samuel’s sister, was left to manage the house, her ailing mother and two of Samuel’s children. She married her cousin William Whipple, who moved into the mansion with her, bringing his manservant slave, Prince Whipple, who he later emancipated. Their first and only child didn’t make it past infancy. William got caught up in the Revolutionary War and signed the Declaration of Independence. While he was busy with that, Katherine effectively managed the Moffatt business.

The house eventually passed to Nathanial Haven, husband to Samuel’s daughter Polly, after some considerable family feuding. Shortly thereafter Nathanial sold it for one dollar to his daughter Maria and her husband Alexander Ladd. The house stayed in the Ladd family thereafter until it was offered to the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in 1911 to be preserved as a museum.

Be sure to visit the website to learn more about this fascinating history.

St. John's Episcopal Church

St. John's Episcopal Church

St. John’s Episcopal Church, located on Chapel Street between Bow Street and Scott Ave, is a historic place of worship that has been an integral part of the city’s religious and cultural landscape for over two centuries.

St. John’s Episcopal Church was founded in 1732, and originally named Queen’s Chapel in honor if Queen Caroline of Great Britain, and renamed to St. John’s after the American revolution.

After the great fire of 1806 that destroyed the church, the current church was constructed and was the first brick church in New Hampshire. The steeple, adorned with a distinctive weathervane shaped like a fish, has become an iconic symbol of Portsmouth.

The adjacent cemetery contains the graves of many prominent citizens from the colonial era. Additionally, there are ten underground vaults which are accessible from the Bow and Chapel Streets. Such venerable leaders as Royal Governor Benning Wentworth (1741-1766) and the Rev. Arthur Browne, first Rector of Queen’s Chapel (1736-1773), are buried in these vaults.

Warner House

Warner House

The Warner House, sitting at the corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets, has rich early-Georgian style features, unique colonial era wall murals, and many of the Warner family furnishings, including family portraits and 18th-century Portsmouth-made furniture.

The house was built originally for Scots-Irish sea captain Archibald Macpheadris around 1716, who married Lieutenant-Governor Wentworth’s daughter Sarah Wentworth. Macpheadris died in 1729, and Sarah later remarried and moved to her new husband’s home, while her brother, Royal Governor Benning Wentworth, took occupation of the Macpheadris house.

Fast forward to 1760 – Wentworth had moved on and Portsmouth merchant Jonathan Warner reconnected the house to the Macpheadris family, by marrying Macpheadris’ only child, the widowed Mary Macpheadris Osborne. The happy couple settled into the home and from then on, the house was in the hands of their descendants until 1932, though demoted to a summer home in 1880.

By 1932 the worn out building appeared ready for the wrecking ball, but was thankfully saved from that ignoble end by the Warner House Association, which purchased it and opened it as a museum, which has been delighting visitors since.

Harbor Walk Park

Harbor Walk Park

Harbor Walk Park is a quiet little park protruding into the river and providing a close up view of Memorial Bridge, where you can appreciate its sheer size and mechanics. 

The park itself is a World War memorial, a restful place to remember those who fought for our freedom and to enjoy a moment’s respite on the benches watching the river flow by.

There are tables here, in addition to benches, so it’s also a great place to bring a lunch, and take a rest after all that walking.

Portsmouth Memorial Park

Portsmouth Memorial Park

Portsmouth Memorial Park is easily bypassed if it’s not on a route you’re taking, but thankfully, it is. 

The granite blocks that form the sculpture at the center of the small park are none other than the foundation abutments that supported the previous Memorial Bridge for 88 years. 

According to the plaque on the site, this is a memorial to past, present and future “heroic souls of the men and women who courageously served our country and bravely risked their lives to protect our way of life”.

In addition to honoring these heroes, the park also provides a nice view of the Memorial Bridge and its entrance plaque. The bridge was built in 2013, replacing the older, smaller similar bridge that had carried traffic since 1923.

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